City, which had two incarnations between 1958 and 1963, was
one of American television's most innovative police shows, and one
of its most important and influential drama series. More character
anthology than police procedural, the series blended the urban policier
a la Dragnet with the urban pathos of the Studio One
school of television drama, offering a mix of action-adventure and
Actors' Studio, car chases and character studies, shoot-outs and
sociology, all filmed with arresting starkness on the streets of
series was inspired by the 1948 "semi-documentary" feature, The
Naked City (which borrowed its title from the photographic collection
by urban documentarist/crime photographer Weegee). Independent producer
Herbert Leonard (The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, Tales of the
77th Bengal Lancers, Circus Boy) developed the idea as a half-hour
series for Screen Gems, hiring writer Stirling Silliphant for the
pilot script. Leonard outlined his plan for the series to Variety
in 1958 as an attempt to tell anthology-style stories within the
framework of a continuing-character show. It was to be "a human
interest series about New York," the producer declared, "told through
the eyes of two law enforcement officers." Leonard's agenda for
the series' setting was equally unique: it would be shot completely
on location in New York, duplicating the trend-setting realism of
its feature film progenitor. This was an ambitious, if not radical,
move at this moment in television history, for although New York
still retained a significant presence as the site of variety shows,
a few live anthologies, and the quiz programs, no other telefilm
dramas were being produced there at the time.
City 's first season on ABC presented 39 taut, noirish half-hours
(31 scripted by Silliphant) that mixed character drama, suspense,
and action. The characters for the series' two regular detectives
were carried over from the feature film: Lt. Dan Muldoon (John McIntire),
the seasoned veteran, and his idealistic young subordinate, Detective
Jim Halloran (James Franciscus). When creative differences arose
between McIntire and Leonard at mid-season, Muldoon was written
out of the series via a fiery car crash, and replaced as the 65th
Precinct's father-figure by crusty Lt. Mike Parker (Horace MacMahon).
The show's signature was its narrator, who introduced each episode
with the assurance that the series was not filmed in a studio, but
"in the streets and buildings of New York itself," and returned
thirty minutes later to intone the series' famous tag-line (also
borrowed from the feature): "There are eight million stories in
the Naked City. This has been one of them."
an Emmy nomination for Best Drama, Naked City's downbeat
dramatics did not generate adequate ratings, and it was canceled.
Unlike other failed shows, however, Naked City was not forgotten.
In the fall of 1959 one of the show's former sponsors urged producer
Leonard to mount Naked City for the following season in hour-long
form. The sponsor's interest led ABC to finance the pilot, and in
Fall 1960 Leonard was at the helm of two hour-long prime-time drama
series (the other being Route 66 at CBS).
York remained the show's most distinctive star, and extensive location
shooting remained its trademark. Horace MacMahon returned as Lt.
Parker, but with a different compassionate young colleague, Detective
Adam Flint (Paul Burke), who was partnered with good-natured Sgt.
Frank Arcaro (Harry Bellaver), and engaged to aspiring actress Libby
Kingston (Nancy Malone). Silliphant wrote the pilot, and stayed
on as executive story consultant, but wrote fewer scripts due to
his heavy involvement with Route 66. Leonard brought in anthology
veteran Howard Rodman as story editor and frequent scripter, and
was able to attract other writers with a penchant for social drama,
including anthology alumni like Ernest Kinoy and Mel Goldberg, Hollywood
blacklistees such as Arnold Manoff (writing as "Joel Carpenter"),
Abram Ginnes, and Ben Maddow--and budding TV auteurs like Gene Roddenberry.
With a company of serious writers and more time for story and character
development, Naked City's anthology flavor became even more
pronounced. Stories became more character-driven, with a more central
focus on transient characters (i.e., "guest stars"), and more extended
psychological exploration. This dimension of the show was informed
by a distinctive roster of guest stars, from well-known Hollywood
performers like Claude Rains and Lee J. Cobb, and character players
like Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, and Walter Matthau, to such
up-and-coming talents as Diahann Carroll and Dustin Hoffman. A 1962
Time profile called the series' array of stars "the best evidence
that Naked City is not just another cop show." Its stories
provided even stronger evidence. Naked City's structure placed
less emphasis on investigation and police work than did police-procedurals
in the Dragnet mold--and less emphasis on the detectives themselves.
As Todd Gitlin has put it, on Naked City "the regular cops
faded into the background while the foreground belonged to each
week's new character in the grip of the city."
its stories generally emphasizing the points-of-view of the criminals,
victims, or persons-in-crisis, Naked City exhibited a more
complicated and ambiguous vision of morality and justice than traditional
policiers, where good and bad were clear-cut. Most of the
characters encountered by Flint and Arcaro were simply people with
problems, who stumbled up against the law by accident or ill fortune;
when the occasional hit man, bank robber, or jewel thief was encountered,
they too were humanized, their motives and psyches probed. However,
sociopaths and career crooks were far outnumbered by more mundane
denizens of the naked city, thrust into crisis by circumstance:
an innocent ex-con accused of murder; a disfigured youth living
in the shadows of the tenements; a Puerto Rican immigrant worn down
by poverty and unemployment; a lonely city bureaucrat overcome by
suicidal despair; a junior executive who kills over a parking space;
a sightless boy on an odyssey through the streets of Manhattan.
Eight million stories--or at least 138 as dramatized in this series--rooted
in the sociology and psychology of human pain.
City revised the traditional cop-show commitment to crime and
punishment. Unlike their prime-time counterparts Joe Friday and
Eliot Ness, Detectives Flint and Arcaro did not toil in the grim
pursuit of "facts" with which to solve cases and incarcerate criminals.
Rather, they pondered human puzzles, bore witness to suffering,
and meditated on the absurdities of urban existence. With compassion
more typical of TV doctors than TV detectives, they brought justice
to the innocent, helped lost souls fit back into society, and agonized
over broken lives they could not fix. Indeed, as critic David Boroff
put it in an essay on "TV's Problem Play," the detectives of Naked
City were "as much social workers as cops."
every episode of Dragnet ended with the record of a trial
(and usually a conviction), Naked City was seldom able to
resolve its stories quite so easily. The series offered narrative
closure, but no easy answers; it did not pretend to solve social
problems, nor did it mute, defuse, or mask them. Although some episodes
ended with guarded hope, happy endings were rare; resolutions were
just as likely to be framed in melancholy bemusement or utter despair.
Naked City's "solution" was to admit that there are no solutions--at
least none that could be articulated in the context of its own dramatic
agenda. "One of its strengths," wrote Boroff in 1966, "was that
it said nothing which is neatly paraphraseable. It was, in truth,
Chekhovian in its rueful gaze at people in the clutch of disaster.
Naked City was, in essence, a compassionate--not a savage--eye.
This I have seen, it said."
City was one of ABC's most prestigious shows during the early sixties,
nominated for "Outstanding Achievement in Drama" Emmy every season
it was on the air, and winning several Emmies for editing and cinematography.
The series was canceled at the end of the 1962-63 season, but its
influence was already clear. In its day, it paved the way for the
serious, urban dramas that followed a la The Defenders, and
East Side, West Side, and sparked a modest renaissance in New
York telefilm production in the early sixties. At a larger level,
it experimented with the formal definition of the series, demonstrated
that complex drama could be done within the series format, and expanded
the aesthetic horizons of the police show. Echoing Weegee's photographic
studies, which captured the faces of New York in the glare of a
camera flash, television's Naked City offered narrative portraits,
exposed through the equally revealing light of the writer's imagination.
Ultimately both versions of Naked City are less about society
or a city than people, which is why the portraits are often
disturbing, and always fascinating.
Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (1958-l959)........................................................
John McIntire Detective Lieutenant Jim Halloran (1958-1959).................................................James
Franciscus Janet Halloran (1958-1959).....................
Suzanne Storrs Patrolman/Sergeant Frank Arcaro..............
Harry Bellaver Lieutenant Mike Parker (1959-l963)...... Horace
McMahon Detective Adam Flint (1960-1963)..................
Paul Burke Libby (1960-1963)....................................
Herbert B. Leonard, Charles Russell
September 1958-September 1959 Tuesday
9:30-10:00 October 1960-September l963 Wednesday
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D., editor. TV as Art. Champaign, Illinois: National Council
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Entry." Variety (Los Angeles), 28 October 1959.
City More Like a Naked Nightmare (Now It Can Be Told)." Variety
(Los Angeles), 12 June 1963.
"Naked Truth." Newsweek (New York), 4 March 1963.
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Howard. Papers., Wisconsin Center For Film and Theater Research.
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9 March 1960.
Arthur. "We Travel Light and We Travel Fast." American Cinematographer
(Hollywood, California), August 1959.
Sterling. Papers., UCLA Special Collections.
Can Make 'Em Just as Cheap or Cheaper in N.Y.: Herb Leonard." Variety
(Los Angeles) 26 February 1958.